Peter Carey's Mythistorical Novels
Instead of the historical – mythmaking power1
IN A SPEECH HELD AT THE SALZBURG FESTIVAL in 1994, the cultural critic George Steiner expounded on the near-impossibility of creating a new myth, a new grand récit for Europe. He asked: “what myth would be correspondent to our present condition; what new myth could hold up a living mirror to our European being?” Steiner at the time advocated the quest for a new myth in the face of “post-modern gurus “who” tell us that the time of the great stories is over. That we can no longer tell, let alone invent, such stories.” Although a new foundational story for Europe would have to “face its recent past, and the unbearably European responsibilities in that past,” Steiner warned that, without it, the Old World would never “in any inward, authentic sense recover or flourish.”2
While the bestialities of the Holocaust and the general sense of “too much history”3 continue to haunt Europe, New-World societies are liberated from the Old World's all-eclipsing past. The former settler colonies in particular
1 The German original reads: “An Stelle des Historischen – die mythenbildende
Kraft,” Friedrich Nietzsche, Nachgelassene Fragmente: 1869–1874, vol. 7 of Fried-
rich Nietzsche: Sämtliche Werke – Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Einzelbänden, ed.
Giorgio Colli & Mazzino Montinari (Munich: DTV, 1988): 508.
2 An excerpt from this speech was published as “Modernity, Mythology and
Magic,” Guardian (London; 6 August 1994), Features: 27.
3 Steiner, “Modernity, Mythology and Magic,” 27.